What were we worrying about Norwich City fans?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
As the club looked through the annals of seasons past to summon former derby goal heroes onto the pitch before kick off on Saturday, a ploy that added brilliantly to the atmosphere at an already electric Carrow Road, City fans had been hoping recent history would play a bigger part in the make-or-break derby.
Most neutrals were assured in reminding me that City were the better team, that they'd not lost to Ipswich on three occasions this season, that Mick McCarthy's side wouldn't have the quality needed to beat City in an away leg. That I had nothing to worry about. At the interval on Saturday, with the game goalless, I'd like to think they could understand why I had been so nervous.
But Norwich's season has been typified by much improved second-half displays, and galvanised by what we can only assume was a carefully considered half-time team talk by Alex Neil, they emerged from the dressing room a different team for the second period. It wasn't a time for panic, that had been our downfall. It called for the complete opposite.
Suddenly, City did show composure and with it the class and creativity in midfield that had been missing. It didn't take long to bring its rewards, as Steven Whittaker's excellent interception found Wes Hoolahan who combined with Nathan Redmond to tie the Ipswich defence up in knots, so much so that Christophe Berra thought he had licence to become 'rush goalkeeper' to save Redmond's shot on the line.
Ipswich fans were quick to point to his sending off as the moment that killed them off, even if they did manage to equalise soon after. The way City had upped their game, you'd have been a fool to bet against us even if it had been 11 v 11. Redmond had come into his own, firing home before sliding through an inch-perfect pass for Jerome to latch onto and make Norwich's place at Wembley secure.
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Thankfully, the defensive lapse that led to Town's goal can be written off as one we must avoid at all costs at Wembley rather than dwell on because of its importance. It's not the first time Russ Martin has faced criticism over a goal this season, and while he was outmuscled for the knockdown which led to the goal, Sebastien Bassong's performance was immense, winning anything that came near him during the onslaught of Ipswich aerial attacks.
Naturally, the attention now turns to what will be a glorious occasion at Wembley in a week's time. Neil has given us a fantastic day to savour. I grew up hearing the recollections of Steve Bruce's header against our great rivals that took us to Wembley in 1985. Here's hoping in the decades to come the next generation of City fans will be told of Saturday's events as being the prelude to yet another famous final victory.
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